New expensive polio fund overlaps existing programme

Published: November 17, 2012

Fresh Rs27.5 billion emergency fund announced despite ongoing efforts by the EPI.

ISLAMABAD: 

The federal government has cleared an emergency programme worth Rs27.5 billion for polio eradication, which overlaps with a similar ongoing programme, after UN agencies informed that shooting polio cases were hampering the Global Polio Eradication Initiative.

The fund was announced at a special meeting of the Central Development Working Party headed by Deputy Chairman Planning Commission Dr Nadeemul Haque Khanzada. It was said that the federal government will borrow Rs24.2 billion to cushion the spending, whereas the remaining Rs3.3 billion will be provided from the national exchequer.

The Expanded Programme on Immunisation (EPI), administered by the WHO, Unicef and the Pakistan government, is already working to interrupt the polio virus in the country.

The officials told The Express Tribune that the government will take a $227 million loan from the Islamic Development Bank and $24 million from the World Bank as part of the required foreign debts. The loans have been commissioned for a 15-year period.

Redundancy

The announced programme overlaps with the ongoing Expanded Programme on Immunisation, worth Rs26 billion, which questions the necessity of the fresh initiative.

Procurements for the emergency plan will be made by Unicef, while implementation will be monitored by the World Health Organisation – agencies which are spearheading the polio eradication initiative. However, instead of securing grants from these agencies or availing any concessionary loans, the government has decided to take comparatively expensive loans from the Islamic Development Bank and the World Bank.

Contradiction

Health has been devolved to provinces under the 18th amendment. Hence, the federal government’s decision to bear the cost of the emergency programme seems contradictory.

Attempts were made to contact Minister for Finance Dr Abdul Hafeez Shaikh to inquire into the reasons for financing a project that fell in the provinces’ domain, and the causes for seeking loans instead of grants or concessionary loans from UN agencies.

Shaikh had recently complained to the federal cabinet that a transfer of 10 per cent additional resources to provinces under the 7th National Finance Commissions Award was the cause of federal fiscal woes. In light of this, his consent to credit a hefty sum of Rs27 billion on federal government’s books raises questions.

Officials privy to the sanctioning of the programme said that the federal government had initially refused to finance the project by arguing that the responsibility of providing health services was with the federating units.

However two influential parliamentarians pressured the government to pick the cost.

Since 2008, rising numbers of polio cases have turned polio eradication into a national emergency and placed Pakistan at a rise of becoming the last remaining reservoir of endemic poliovirus transmissions in the world – making it the only remaining threat to achieving global polio eradication.

Published in The Express Tribune, November 17th, 2012.

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